In general, branding is one of the first things you tackle when creating a product, game, or company. In my opinion, it’s both one of the most fun and most frustrating aspects of marketing: fun because it’s creative and emotional, frustrating because creativity is, well… subjective and emotional.
The emotional part of branding is what I cling to most, as the anchor; when I have a new “thing” to brand or rebrand, I always ask the question: “What kind of emotion do I want my customers to feel when they see or hear about us?” After quite precisely defining that emotion, I use it as the foundation for the creative process, from the logo to the use of color, character, typeface, etc.
With Our Machinery, for instance, the main feelings that we want to elicit in people are:
- An Atmosphere of Inclusiveness: We want all types of developers to feel like they could belong to our community.
- Accessibility and Ease of Use: What we’re building is something that people should be attracted to in part because it’s not too complex, and rather more lightweight and flexible—thus our nod to the simple machines working together in a Rube Goldberg Machine.
- Trust: We want to somehow convey the feeling of trust through our logo, as simple machines are tried and true throughout the ages. We’ve earned a bit of that through our own individual reputations, but we know we have to constantly maintain it with our community. For this, we want to have transparency in what we’re creating, explaining what we’re facing, working on, and running into by sharing on our blogs—and, once we launch, eventually taking feedback from our community of users.
Here’s a bit of a reveal of part of our branding efforts:
The most frustrating part of branding comes, at least for me, when you have multiple decision-makers in the room, wanting their ideas inserted into the brand image. As a designer, or when working with a creative director, things can get tricky when attempting to please everyone. If you stand by your tenet of anchoring the brand to the emotions you want to convey, you can help drive the decision-making process a lot better.
In my younger days as a marketing director, I made the mistake of trying to please everyone. At Flagship Studios, for instance, I was in charge of creating the box art for Hellgate: London. As I walked the aisles of Best Buy and Gamestop, I noticed most of the PC boxes were black or brown. I had a vision of creating a white box embossed with a demon head, as a salute to our founders’ legacy with the Diablo franchise. The creative agency we hired produced an amazing-looking box, but when we presented it to the rest of the owners (there were 12 of us), a number of them didn’t quite get it, and started push their ideas in the mix. Instead of driving the decision through the intended emotion, I ended up compromising by including nearly all of the elements people wanted. In the end, the box art we made wasn’t great; it was confusing, with too many competing images and lacking a clear point of view. I learned that sometimes when you’re the owner of a project and you’re passionate about your decisions, you really need to show the data and stand by your perspective to drive the decision.
In another, more recent experience I had with Amazon, I learned that sometimes you need to show different branding solutions to multiple decision makers—but use your core tenet to swing them back around to the original concept. With the Lumberyard logo, for example, my creative agency came up with a great idea that we all initially liked, but some people didn’t understand. After multiple rounds, several surveys, and a couple of months spent getting everyone on the same page, I was finally able to get everyone to get behind that original idea, largely because of the foundation of the tenets we created for the brand.
Though we are three different people here at Our Machinery, each with our own styles and instincts, Tobias, Niklas, and I largely share a clear vision of what we want for the company, what we’re creating, and what we want to provide for developers. So it didn’t take too long to get the branding done.
I could go on and on and on about things like styles, colors, typefaces, and analyses of competing brands, but this is supposed to be a mini series! So I’ll leave you with this: Feelings are a really powerful way to connect with people. Just because you think something looks really cool, doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to a good brand. Make sure that the message and feeling you want people to experience is communicated with that logo.
Finally, here are a few of my favorite agencies I’ve worked with over the years:
- Weiden + Kennedy http://www.wk.com/
- OMFG https://omfgco.com/
- Studio Moniker https://studiomoniker.com/
- Studio Puckey https://puckey.studio/
- Pentagram https://www.pentagram.com/
I wanted to add a big ups to my longtime design collaborator, Jung Kwak. I met her when we were launching Rockstar Games back in 1999 and we’ve been working together on and off ever since. She unfortunately isn’t taking any new clients at the moment, but you should look her up if you do need design help in the future. She helped us with the Our Machinery branding.